The hardwood ridges of north Alabama were still brown, but the Bradford pears blooming around valley homes were a sure sign that spring had sprung. A day of fishing on Alabama Power’s Lake Weiss was in store, and with spring on the way, the hope was to find some prespawn bass. By mid April the bass will be hard on the beds on Weiss, and though it was still a few weeks shy of this mark, the balmy afternoon temperatures and warm breezes could almost convince you otherwise.
Lake Weiss covers 30,200 acres in northeast Alabama on the Alabama/Georgia border. Weiss is the centerpiece of Cherokee County, Ala., so local businesses cater to anglers and know how to treat them well. Four public-access areas and 37 privately run marinas make accessing the lake easy, and there are plenty of camp- grounds, motels and rental cabins dot- ting the shoreline. Lake Weiss consistently ranks as one of the top bass fishing lakes in Alabama based on catch information reported by tournament anglers to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
My fishing partner for this trip was Andy Allen of Summerville. Andy and his tournament partner Michael Montgomery are always a force to be reckoned with on Weiss and are as good as anyone at tracking Weiss bass through the unsettled month of April as fish move from prespawn to spawn to postspawn. During the 2005 season, the duo finished 14th out of 176 teams who fished the Weiss Lake Team Championship Tournament Trail. The team also fishes several other smaller tournaments every year on Weiss to keep up with what is going on with the fish in their favorite lake.
As we idled out of the cove at JR’s Marina on the Little River arm of the lake, Andy commented that this spring was shaping up to be an odd one.
“The water temperature this after- noon back in the coves is 66 degrees, but the problem is there isn’t any water,” Andy said. “The temperature is ahead of schedule, but the lake level is behind. The lake is still several feet lower than what it should be by now and that seems to have the fish con- fused. Once we get some good rain and they hold the lake to bring it up, fishing really ought to take off.”
Andy had promised to take me on a tour of Weiss April bass fishing from start to finish, so we started off looking for prespawn largemouths. A short run across the lake took us into Little Nose Creek. As Andy’s Bumble Bee glided to a stop just shy of the first bridge headed into the creek, he explained his choice. “I’ve had several good bites here lately,” he said, “and both the first- and second-place sacks in the most recent tournament were caught here, too.
“What is good about this spot is the road causeway and bridge serve as a constriction point for fish heading into the back of the cove to spawn. The fish aren’t quite ready to really move up into shallow water, but they will stage in places that have a little depth close to the spawning grounds, and sometimes you can find them really bunched up around these bridges. There
isn’t anything special about the one in Little Nose Creek, there are a others just like it. Cowan Creek, Big Spring Creek, Yellow Creek, several others — all the same deal, just a place the fish have to funnel through as they start to move from deeper water back into the spawning coves.”
Although the area had produced for Andy leading up to our trip, it wasn’t kind to us this time and didn’t pro- duce a fish. Several anglers were fishing from the bank for crappie in the area, too, which kind of cramped our style when it came to fishing the best areas in close to the bridge.
“That’ s the problem with fishing on nice spring days like this,” Andy grinned. “Everybody else is out fishing, too.”
Since the staging area wasn’t producing, we passed under the bridge into the shallow cove hoping the warm afternoon sun might have convinced at least a few big females it was time to stake out their spawning territory. “What I like to look for when I am after fish that have moved up to spawn are protected pockets,” Andy said, “and the best ones have several other things going for them. First is a pea- gravel bottom. You may find a few fish spawning on an old mud bottom, but most of them are going to be on gravel. Usually you can just look on the bank and tell what the bottom is like, but sometimes you can find a good spawning area when the lake is down like it is now and then when the lake is full you wouldn’t have any idea it is there just by looking at the bank. The second thing is some cover. Those big fish like to lay up next to some- thing when they spawn. An old log or treetop in shallow water is perfect. The last thing I look for is that the pocket is protected from the wind, and there isn’t much current. You don’ t want somewhere the wind sweeps across all the time, and you don’t want a spot that has much current when they are pulling water.”
As we moved into the shallow cove, Andy explained his strategy.
“I doubt the fish have moved back in here yet since the lake is still low, but we might pick up a good one that is ahead of the others. Flipping big tubes or lizards around cover in these pockets can catch you a big sack when conditions are right, so we’ll give it a try. Weiss is usually stained at best, so it isn’ t a sight-fishing type pattern. Unless you are back in Yellow Creek or Little River, which both drain off the mountain and are usually a little clearer, you probably aren’t going to be able to see the fish. You just have to pick your spots based on where you think the fish ought to be, whether you can see them or not. There are a lot of areas with good spawning pockets, but some of the best are around Godfreys Island, Cowan Creek, Big Spring Creek, and Waterhouse Cove.”
As we fished the cove, Andy homed in on a large dock with a virtual subdivision’s worth of discarded Christmas trees underneath it.
“Fish will spawn around these docks too,” Andy explained, “especially one like this that has plenty of brush. Old docks seem to be better than new ones though.”
Although we hit every nook and cranny we could, we still couldn’t find the big bite we were after.
“This low water just has the fish messed up,” Andy complained, “I’m ready to at least go catch a few fish to get us back on track then we can start hunting a big one again.”
Since the crappie fishermen on the bridge had moved on, we quickly hit the bridge again on the way out, and atleast had a missed strike rewarding our persistence at what we knew was a good hole.
Like any good tournament fisher- man, Andy had a backup plan in mind. A GPS unit made quick work of finding the sweet spot on a large flat in the middle of the lake near the main Coosa River channel.
“There are some old house foundations here on the edge of this flat where it drops off into deeper water,” Andy said, “and you can Carolina-rig spotted bass here about any time you want to. In tournaments we’ll use this hole to pick up a quick limit of spots and then go hunting the largemouths to get us in the money. These holes are kind of hard to find, but if you pay attention to your depthfinder as you move around the lake, you’ll probably put together your own list pretty quick. Once you see something that looks promising, just throw out a buoy and fish a Carolina rig to see what is down there. There are a lot of old foundations and stump fields in this lake, and they are well worth the effort to find.”
Andy’s move paid off as we boat- ed two small spotted bass in quick order and missed several others.
“Most people think fishing for spots usually means small fish,” Andy said, “and there is some truth to that. But on Weiss, spots get big and mean.
I remember a tournament where we had a largemouth just a few ounces shy of six pounds that we caught early in the morning. We spent the whole day just knowing we had big fish all wrapped up. Come weigh-in time though, we found out we got edged out by a fish a little over six pounds, and it was a spot!
“I’ve seen guys bring in limits of spots with nothing less than three pounds, so they definitely are worth fishing for on this lake.”
Andy’ s offshore hole provided slow but steady action until evening. Most bites were tentative though, indicating the fish just weren’t really in feeding mood to begin with.
“Before dark, let’ s go hit some more spawning areas just to see if we can’t catch a big largemouth,” he said.
On the ride to Black Mallard Cove, our next hole, Andy shared some advice on fishing the post- spawn.
“By the end of April, water temperatures are going to be in the 70s. Most if not all of the fish are done spawning and the fishing can be really good in the grass,” Andy explained. “That’s when you want to break out the topwater plugs, buzzbaits, and spinnerbaits. The grass is green and growing, and the water temperature is still comfortable so the fish are feeding aggressively. Look for grassbeds with deep water out in front of them. Cowan and Big Spring Creek are good areas, and Black Mallard Cove has some good grass, too. Up the lake around Riverside Campground and Godfrey’ s Island, at Hogg Island here where the Chattooga arm meets the Coosa channel, all of them are good. There is no shortage of grassbeds on this lake. Just get out there and make some casts around grassy points and you’ll catch some fish.”
Our last several stops of the day were similar to the way we started, hitting good-looking areas for pre-spawn fish, but no takers.
“April can be good, but it can be tough too on this lake,” Andy explained. “The fish are on the move the whole month, so finding a really solid pattern can be a trick. About the time you get them pinned down during the prespawn they move shallow to spawn and then before you know it they are pulling off the beds and going into a postspawn pattern. Throw in a hot or cold spell and either too much or too little rain, and the fish don’t know if they are coming or going and you don’t either. If I had to tell some- one coming up here for the first time in April what to do to catch fish, I would say tie on a Texas-rigged green pumpkin or junebug lizard, find some protected pockets with a ditch running into the back of them and some wood, and just start fishing. Stick with it long enough and you’ll catch some fish. If the fish seem to be hitting pretty good, you can go to a white/chartreuse spinnerbait and speed up, but just easing along fishing that lizard is hard to beat for catching a few fish.”
The evening turned out the same way as the afternoon — no takers in the shallows, so just to feel a tug on the line we spent the last few minutes of daylight Carolina-rigging for spots again, this time on a rock pile up the Chattooga arm. Several short strikes but no solid hookups told us things hadn’t changed, and even the spots still weren’t really in the mood to eat.
Weiss is a very productive lake. The Coosa River bottoms that once grew corn and cotton have been doing a fine job of growing bass since they were flooded. Largemouths or spots, you can’t go wrong fishing this great bass lake just over the Alabama line.
The day of our trip it felt like May, the calendar said end of March, and the lake level looked like February. The fish didn’t know which way to turn, and most anglers probably didn’t either. By the time the ridges have turned from brown to green, you can bet the conditions will have smoothed out and Lake Weiss’s large- mouths will be on the prowl. Follow the same game plan Weiss regulars like Andy Allen use to navigate their way through the unsettled month of April, and you can cash in on what can be some of the best bass fishing in the Southeast.